A Bubble Reputation

USA Today quotes studies which suggest that 70% of Barack Obama’s Twitter followers are fake. “A new Web tool has determined that 70% of Obama’s crowd includes “fake followers”. The New York Times describes how it’s done.


The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like USocial.net, InterTwitter.com, and FanMeNow.com that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At BuyTwitterFollow.com, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days.

Will Mitchell, the founder of Clear Presence Media, a marketing company outside Tampa, Fla., said that he has bought more than a million followers for his clients, which include musicians, start-ups and a well-known actress he declined to identify.

“And it’s so cheap, too,” he said. In one instance, Mr. Mitchell said, he bought 250,000 for $2,500, or a penny each.

The NYT article lays out the worst case.

If accurate, the number of fake followers out there is surprising. According to the StatusPeople tool, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s nearly 29 million followers are “fake” or “inactive.” So are 70 percent of President Obama’s nearly 19 million followers.

But TechCrunch is not so sure that the Presidents numbers are so grossly inflated. Their own estimates are that President Obama’s non-existent legions only comprise 31% of the total.


But it is probably unwelcome news in any case for the Obama campaign. Just recently the Guardian noted that “when it comes to sheer productivity, Obama’s massive staff – in June, it was 750 compared with Romney’s 87 – has maintained the president’s lead by dwarfing Romney’s postings on Twitter, out-blogging him on the Obama campaign website and matching Romney’s activities on Facebook.” Imagine their chagrin at learning that many of those enthusiastic supporters were no more real than a three dollar bill. The NYT reports that Twitter is cleaning up their act.

But Twitter is starting to clamp down. In April, it filed suit in federal court in San Francisco against five spammers, including those who create fake Twitter followers. (The case is pending.) That didn’t discourage Mr. Nainan, the comedian. He recently asked about “the theoretical maximum” Twitter followers he can purchase. “They said, ‘You could probably get over a million, a million and a half,’ ” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Why not? I can afford it.’ ”

The difference is that a comedian inhabits the land of fantasy and entertainment while a president is supposed to govern over reality. The discover that many of President Obama’s legion followers are fake seems strangely suited to the tenor of his administration, which abounds in imaginary objects. In late 2011 Obama told Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes that he could scarcely enumerate his accomplishments to that early date.


“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments,” he told the program’s Steve Kroft. “As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R. and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

He was just part way through his first term and there he was, level with FDR and Honest Abe. Imagine what he coud do with a second? This self-assessment was widely seen by the blogosphere as proof of immodesty. “How,” they thundered, “could someone compare himself to Lincoln and Roosevelt on so thin a record”.

They did not notice what was really odd:  the fact that Obama put Johnson, FDR and Lincoln on the same level of greatness — an assortment that is about as credible as putting Danny de Vito, Marlon Brando and Brad Pitt on the same level of handsomeness. In fact if three Presidents were placed in a multiple choice test under the heading, “which of these does not belong” on a high school test:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Frank Roosevelt
  • Lyndon Johnson

which would you choose? Clearly Abraham Lincoln since he was the only one who was a Vampire Hunter.


Few remarked on the strangeness of the comparison at the time, but in retrospect it is all understandable, in view of President Obama’s judgment processes. Doubtless LBJ was a favorite of his Twitter followers and he had to give them their due. Marvels ever cease in modern electoral politics. It is a place where the dead vote, the nonexistent Tweet, most of our friends are on Facebook and all your base are belong to us.

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